Schick Hydro Preview: Newcastle Knights v South Sydney Rabbitohs
McDonald Jones Stadium
A couple of Round 2 winners come together in a meeting that is vital for the early-season momentum of both sides and on paper is also winnable for both teams.
Newcastle earned a famous victory over an injury-ravaged Titans last week. It was a massive morale-booster for a playing group that hadn't sung the team song since Round 6 last year and a much-needed boost for long-suffering fans who have stuck by their club through a rough trot.
It was also a just reward for coach Nathan Brown, who must finally feel that a tough rebuilding period is starting to pay off, revealing some green shoots of growth after a long period of willing that lovingly crafted plot of fresh earth to just give him something from the seeds he has planted.
It did come against an embattled Titans outfit that was injury hit before game day then lost two backs and a hooker to injury in the first half but the unbridled joy from the players afterwards was as genuine as it gets.
Their opponents this weekend, South Sydney, responded in fine style from their Round 1 hammering at the hands of Wests Tigers and particularly to the loss of their inspirational captain Greg Inglis. Their new-look spine – the one that's set to be their permanent one in 2017 – gelled immediately with Cody Walker starring, Adam Reynolds making a polished early return from appendicitis, Alex Johnston filling Inglis's sizeable boots with aplomb and the hooking rotation of Robbie Farah and Damien Cook combining wonderfully.
The Knights have unsurprisingly named the same 17 who got the job done against the Titans. Jacob Gagan, Joe Wardle, Josh King and Anthony Tupou are the four additional names on the reserves list.
Souths coach Michael Maguire has also gone for an unchanged 17, with Sifa Talakai, Anthony Cherrington, Cam Murray and Tom Burgess the reserves. Hooker Robbie Farah plays his long-awaited 250th NRL game.
Why the Knights can win: Newcastle will go into this one with their confidence as high as it has been at any stage in the past 12 months. An extended cast of rookies, journeymen and bit-part players have looked every bit an NRL team over the opening fortnight, getting close to a win away against the more fancied Warriors before claiming the chocolates last week. The starting back row of Mitch Barnett, Jamie Buhrer and Sione Mata'utia has been nothing short of a revelation, rookie benchies Luke Yates and Sam Stone have played key roles and young half Brock Lamb looks to be flourishing under the guidance of Trent Hodkinson, papering over the pre-season loss of Jarrod Mullen admirably. Winger Nathan Ross has become a genuine cult hero with fans and can lay claims to being one of the form wingers in the competition right now.
Why the Rabbitohs can win: Anyone who saw South Sydney's late burst against Manly last week would have to think if they can string together 80 minutes they could beat anyone in the NRL right now. Knowing Manly was short on forwards they stuck to their task after letting in three early tries and waited for their chance before unleashing in the final 20 minutes. A key part of that is the above-mentioned combination of the current spine but we want to give particular focus to their two No.9s. Either of Farah or Cook would be a really good 80-minute hooker, given the chance, but Maguire seems to have found a way to get the best value out of both. Farah starts, gets rested by Cook late in the first half allowing the latter's explosive speed around the ruck to cause havoc in the lead-up to half time, then Farah returns for the final 15 or 20 minutes with Cook staying on the park and the two work in tandem, sharing dummy-half and lock duties and giving the team a huge array of ball-playing threats over the closing stages with two relatively fresh dummy-halves.
 Telstra Premiership: Trent Hodkinson vs Adam Reynolds
Total Kicks, Line Break Assists, Try Assists, Points.
The history: Played 39; Knights 25, Rabbitohs 14. Given the recent fortunes of both teams it shouldn't come as a great surprise that Souths are on a seven-game winning run against the Knights. They do, however, have an awful record in the Hunter. Despite winning their past two games there they have won just four of 20 visits to McDonald Jones Stadium.
What are the odds: Four times the dollars have been invested on Souths compared to Newcastle in Sportsbet's head-to-head market, and Rabbitohs 13+ is overwhelmingly the most popular winning margin. No love for the Knights at the line either, where they're receiving the points start, although their winger Nathan Ross has been well backed in the first try-scorer market. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Dave Munro. Assistant referee: Chris Sutton. Sideline officials: Russell Turner and Michael Gordon. Review official: Bryan Norrie. Senior review official: Jared Maxwell.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live coverage from 4pm (AEDT).
NRL.com predicts: As wonderful a story as Newcastle's win last week was, it will be a stiff ask against a rejuvenated Bunnies side this Saturday. We'll go for the safe tip – Rabbitohs by two or more tries.